Sick Leave And COVID-19

August 25th, 2020 - Barbara Buckett

The resurgence of COVID-19 in the community has prompted many organisations to start questioning the mechanics around sick leave entitlements balanced with the need to protect their workforce.  As the election looms, some parties are raising the possibility of increasing sick leave entitlements to address the heightened need to stay home and reduce the spread of illnesses such as COVID-19. Whilst positive for employees, there is the concern for businesses as to how this will be funded, particularly in times as these where funds may be tighter.

When COVID-19 first entered the community, the business response was relatively straightforward as there was a blanket lockdown (excluding businesses deemed as an essential service) then elimination.  This time is isn’t so simple, and we are becoming cognisant to the fact that we may likely go in and out of regional lockdown and that alert levels will fluctuate.

Employers have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of their workforce and we all have a responsibility to keep our community safe. We are told to stay at home if we are unwell, which is all well and good if you have sick leave.  However – if people do not and are faced with financial hardship or insecurity of housing through reduced income, the issue becomes somewhat more complex.

Standard Sick leave

Generally, people are entitled to 5 days sick leave as a statutory minimum, after six months of service – however this may vary depending on the individual employment agreement or collective agreement.  This can be accrued and rolled over, the conditions by which are usually dependent on the policy of the organisation.  Time will tell whether minimum statutory requirements will be increased or not!

New Zealanders typically have an attitude where if you are sick, you just pop a few paracetamol, get stuck into the coffee and soldier on.  However, studies indicate that the workplace is one of the most common places for sickness transmission – so there is an argument that facilitating sickness presenteeism really isn’t a good idea.

In these times, it pays for organisations to enable a degree of flexibility when people are ill.  For example, encouraging employees to work from home (where this is possible) rather than come into the workplace if they have a mild cold, for example.  And reiterating that it is OK and even encouraged to take sick leave in the interest of faster recovery and the wellbeing of the colleagues around you.

In the event where people run out of sick leave, it could be beneficial for management to consider a special paid leave ‘bank’ that can be applied on a case by case basis, or one-off extra sick leave entitlement.

We can assist with advice on how to structure and implement extra leave schemes and writing leave policy and variations, contact us for an obligation free discussion.

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

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Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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